THE BLOG
11/14/2013 03:30 pm ET Updated Jan 23, 2014

There's No Such Thing As a 'Typical Feminist'

It's no secret that feminism get a bad rap, but a new study from the University of Toronto cements any kind of remaining speculation about what people think when they hear the word feminist.

According to Salon, the study reveals what Americans really think about activists, and it isn't pretty. The vast majority of those surveyed came to a consensus that activism is directly associated with negative stereotypes. When 228 Americans were asked to describe a "typical feminist," the words "man-hating" and "unhygienic" were the most commonly used.

But don't worry, the study also offers a solution: people may be more open-minded toward feminists and other activists as long as they don't fit into these stereotypes and if they come across as "pleasant and approachable."

Not only are these specific stereotypes because of their negative connotations, but so is the idea that there's even a "typical feminist" to begin with. Believe it or not, crazy Americans, there's no such thing as a "typical feminist," nor is there a specific guideline or framework that all feminists have to fit into.

A HuffPost/YouGov poll from April found that 20 percent of Americans -- 23 percent of women and 16 percent of men -- identify as feminists, but 82 percent of people said they believe that "men and women should be social, political, and economic equals." In sum: the majority of Americans buy into the ideology and actual politics of feminism, just not the label.

Dictionary.com defines feminist as "an advocate of social, political, legal, and economic rights for women equal to those of men." It seems simple enough, but people shy away from the term because of all the negative (and played out, might I add) stereotypes associated with feminism.

Overgeneralizations of any kind are problematic because grand assumptions leave plenty of room for inaccuracies and lead to false representation. It's highly unproductive, not to mention ignorant, to stereotype an entire group of people without taking individual differences into account.

Not only do feminists have to worry about unfair stereotypes and being negatively typecast as hairy, bra-burning man-haters, but they're also held to an almost impossible standard. Often times there's a misconception -- even amongst feminists themselves -- that there's a particular set of rules and guidelines that everyone is required to adhere to: if you're a feminist, you have to have the same set of beliefs as all other feminists, walk your talk every chance you get, and never, ever fall short.

But feminists, just like everyone else walking around on planet Earth, are highly complex beings filled with varying beliefs, traits, intricacies, and even hypocrisies at times. We're not all the same, despite the common goal to achieve equality.

Tavi Gevinson -- teenage feminist and founding editor-in-chief of Rookie Magazine -- puts it best in her TedxTeen talk from last year when she says:

"One thing that can be very alienating about a misconception of feminism is that girls then think that to be feminists they have to live up to being perfectly consistent in their beliefs, never being insecure, never having doubts, having all the answers...and this is not true, and actually recognizing all the contradictions I was feeling became easier once I realized that feminism was not a rulebook but a discussion, a conversation, a process."


All people have different ideologies based on their own social locations. The forms of privilege and oppression that individuals experience, according to varying races, religions, genders, sexualities, and ability to name a few key elements, inherently and obviously shape our perspectives.

There is no uniform kind of feminism in the same way there isn't a "typical" kind of feminist. It means different things for different people, and that's what makes feminism so great -- its potential to be an intersectional and inclusionary space for different people who bring their own perspectives to the table.

It's not at all typical -- it's actually pretty special.